Reviews, February 2005

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Blue and Orange: The History of Gulf in Motorsport by Michael Cotton, ISBN 1902351207, Published by Coterie Press, £39.95

Few sponsor-driven racing liveries are as evocative. John Player Special black and gold on Lotus GP cars maybe, but for racing fans of a certain age the blue and orange of Gulf Oil triggers more. It’s only a surprise that hit has taken so long for a book on the subject to be published.

It is true that the circular symbol represented more than just another marketing campaign, which is why this story is worth telling. When Gulf vice-president Grady Davis shook on a deal with John Wyer in 1966, it transcended simple sponsorship arrangements. Not that the crude commercial benefits should be played down; being synonymous with the iconic Ford GT400 and Porsche 917 is still paying off today.

Thus Gulf commissioned this work and chose the right man to tell its story. Former Motoring News editor Michael Cotton is a primary source himself: he reported on the great endurance races in which JW Automotive made history, continued into the Mirage years of the 1970s and was still filing copy when Gulf came back to Sportscars in the 1990s. Cotton’s seen it all.

Well, not quite. The story begins with Gulf’s first forays into motorsport during the 1930s, specifically maverick genius Harry Miller’s unusual mid-engined Indycars.

In contrast, the ‘Wyer years’ are much more familiar. But it is never a chore to revisit a golden era, especially when the likes of Derek Bell, Brian Redman, Richard Attwood, Jacky Ickx, Jackie Oliver and David Piper add their voices.

A special chapter on the filming of Steve McQueen’s Le Mans movie was a must, given its importance in the building of the Gulf 917 legend. Here Cotton delivers insight with a welcome dry wit.

Gulf partnership with Bruce McLaren has its own chapter, too, while the shift into the 1990s for Gulf’s return to Le Mans, the GTC McLaren F1 supercars and Stefan Johansson’s Audi R8 campaign is quite rightly given plenty of space.

Blue and orange looks so good on racing cars; sadly, it doesn’t work in book design – at least in this case. The use of Gulf’s corporate blue – more 1994 Kremer K8 than washed-out 917 – is unfortunate, and curve-cornered orange boxes as photograph frames do nothing for the images. Stylistically, it misses.

A shame for a work that hits so many other targets. — DS

***

Vukovich: An Inspiring Story of America Achievement by Bob Gates, ISBN 1891390171. Published by Witness Productions, $27.50

For some Bill ‘The Mad Russian’ Vukovich was the greatest driver ever to race at Indy during the roadster era, the press-baiting ace dying in a crash during the 1955 500 as he aimed for a hat-trick of wins. Gates has spoken to many of those close to the publicity-shy Vukovich for a three-dimensional view of the man. If anything, it’s the fortunes of Bill Jr and the tragic Bill III – both Indy rookies of the year – that engender even more pathos. Poor repro aside, this is well worth a punt.

Call (001) 765 597 2487 — RH

***

Automobile Year: the Annual for Car Enthusiasts 2004/05 ISBN 2 88324 072 8. Published by Editions J-R Piccard, £35

Another year, another eclectic mix of stories in this typically strange annual. Mixing features on the usual run of new models, concept cars, comic book art from the likes of Jean Graton and Gilbert Shelton, and a profile of Giotto Bizzarini, there’s enough to satisfy most enthusiasts, whatever their tastes.

Of more interest to the competition crowd is a well-researched piece on the birth of F3 and a review of last year’s F1 season, along with extensive articles on world rallying, touring cars, Sportscars and GTs.

This is a real mixed bag and the publishers have perhaps tried a bit too hard to be all-encompassing. Still, it is easy to lose yourself for a few hours by dipping into this hefty hardback.

Automobile Year remains an appealing constant. Roll on next year’s. — RH

***

Pirelli World Rallying 2004-2005 by Martin Holmes, ISBN 0 954543319. Published by Martin Holmes Rallying, £24.95

Another in a long line of Holmes’ rally annuals. As usual it is full of gen on last year’s WRC with blow-by-blow accounts of each round and info on the various junior classes and the drivers. National titles also get overviews. There’s a wealth of information here, yet it’s easy to digest and long-time collaborator Maurice Selden’s images are typically impressive.

Even if you’re not a fan of modern rallying, and find the current crop of cars utterly hideous, there’s still plenty to like. The extraordinary motoring heritage of Czech city Zlin makes for cracking reading, in particular the secret Desna circuit initiated by Audi during the 1980s, where the prototype mid-engined Quattro Group B monsters were tested away from the gaze of the international press. — RH

***

Championnat D’Europe des Sports-Protos 2 Litres 1970-1975 by Christian Naviaux, ISBN 2 91492039 3. Editions du Palmier, €40

This unpretentious hardback charts the rise and fall of the much-mourned Group 6 series with race-by-race accounts, comprehensive results tables and gen on the various cars. And not just the obvious ones. Aside from Lola, Chevron and Abarth, minnows such as Dulon, Taydec, Grac and Cheetah also get a look in. There’s even a list of driver aliases and their birth names in case you were wondering who ‘Pogo’ or ‘Pam’ were in reality.

This is a joy just to flick through: marvel at Derek Bell drifting his Abarth-Osella SE021 at a sodden Salzburgring, the aftermath of a collision between Chris Craft’s Chevron and Claude Swietlik’s Lola and the magnificence of Jim Busby’s sideburns. French text only, but still highly recommended.

Visit www.editions-palmier.fr — RH

***

Motorfilms Quarterly Volume 11 Compiled by David Weguelin and Doug Nye, David Weguelin Productions, £19.99

Worth buying for the 23 minutes of colour footage of the Cummins Diesel making its presence felt in the 1952 Indy 500. Also included is a Standard-Triumph film of the 1963 Sebring 12 Hours and black-and-white amateur footage of Mercedes W154s and D-type Auto Unions at the 1938 GP de l’ACF and Donington GP. Total running time: 1 hr 25 minutes.

***

The Gulf/Wyer GT40s and 917s in Action Terrific Stuff Ltd, £17.99

A film made by Ferodo to promote its brake lining, Never Start Something You Can’t Stop centres on the 1968 Le Mans 24 Hours and kicks off with Stirling Moss commenting on a hot lap. A Year To Remember is a record of the team’s 1970 season. John Wyer, Pedro Rodriguez and Jo Siffert all feature.